broadswords and blasters

Time for a semi-regular update on my thrilling adventures in authorville. In between reading and reviewing some fine anthologies and a bit of nonfiction, hacking and slashing through the Friday night DCC sessions, and desperately trying to catch up on my Netflix queue, I’ve actually gotten a lot of writing done.

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broadswords and blastersOn the whole this has been a productive year for me, but I don’t have a huge number of announcements to show for it. Most of the stories I placed over the past few months won’t see print until some time in 2020. But there are worse problems to have.

In the mean time I’ve had my head down, ignoring some very tempting open calls and working on a novella (or novel, we’ll see) that probably won’t be ready for the call it was intended for. I actually outlined this one, too.

Alas.

So I will still keep plugging away at the eventual novella, with giddy and unfounded hopes of finishing it before the new year. But I’m also giving myself permission to work on some other short pieces as the inspiration strikes.

And speaking of short pieces, my pulpy sword-and-sorcery story “Dust Claims Dust” appears this month in Broadswords and Blasters Issue 11. I don’t normally write this type of fantasy–having realized that weird horror is more my natural state–but sometimes a story just happens.

I’ll also have a bit of flash coming up at Harbinger Press later in November, which is more in keeping with my usual tendencies.

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Once we’re past Halloween, the holidays will be on top of us with all the attendant commotion. Writing time will be hard to carve out, but there are a lot of great markets open until December 31. With any luck, I’ll be able to do it all.

Updates to follow!

Monster She Wrote

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson provides a slick, quick, entertaining overview of forty notable creators of horror and related genre fiction. The profiled authors range from some of the earliest female authors (Margaret Cavendish, Ann Radcliffe) to the more recent (Angela Carter, Jewelle Gomez), with additional mentions of many new, current authors. Some of the women in these pages are obscure, some are household names–and all are well-qualified contributors to the horror field.

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Monster She WroteMonster, She Wrote is at times a little too glib, quick with a quip but light on details. Even with living, currently-active authors, Kröger and Anderson rely more on basic wiki facts than the writers’ own words about their work. Each of the capsule biographies offers a glancing look at the author’s life, a brief summary of her most famous novel or story, a few of her major works, and a short list of other authors whose style or subject is similar to the featured creator. 

Kröger and Anderson use snippets of quotations in place of illustrations to provide a taste of each author’s style. The quotes piqued my interest, and I would have liked to see more of them. The two also include helpful information on any recent reprints and reissues, to point readers in the right direction.

The profiles are presented chronologically, and the timeline defined by overviews of the various subgenres–gothic, haunted house, pulp, the occult. These analyses are shallow, but they do provide a comfortable structure to the overall effort.

Kröger and Anderson conclude their survey with a review of the current state of horror, and the women who make it. They recap the various subgenres and give shout-outs to several writers working within each one.

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Monster, She Wrote is a light, fast read that doesn’t delve too deeply into any particular aspect of women-penned horror. It’s a good resource for someone beginning to get into the subject, and an effective way to find out about some of the major works of some of the major players. It’s also a fine reminder of some truly talented authors who should not be forgotten–no matter when they wrote their monsters.

whiskey and other unusual ghosts

whiskey and other unusual ghostsWhiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts, S. L Edwards’s debut short story collection, is a moody, ambitious work and a rewarding read. There is a quiet clarity and depth to Edwards’s writing, an awareness of the ways that history and politics affect every aspect of our lives. In Whiskey, even the deeply familial is inevitably shaped by larger, outside forces. The old saw ‘all politics is personal’ rings true on these pages.

These narratives are populated by addicts and drunkards, martinets, bullies, abusers, and survivors. Everyone is damaged in some way, long before the monsters arrive. There is a lot to think about, here, in the way the characters have been warped by their circumstances, in the way they have adapted. Their reactions seem quite real. The stark and evocative illustrations by Yves Tourigny only emphasize the nightmare situations Edwards’s characters navigate.

Following each story, the author’s commentary gives a glimpse into the inner workings of the man behind the monsters. When he is not exploring the scars of revolution, he comes across as thoughtful and low-key.I found his musings on his inspirations, characters, and creative process engaging, and a welcome respite from the terrors of his fiction.

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Of the twelve pieces in Whiskey, my particular favorites are:

whiskey and other unusual ghosts
The author, himself

“And the Woman Loved Her Cats” is a gothic, graphic, and grotesque tale of devotion and misplaced affection. It’s monster is a particularly nasty creature, and the lead-up to the ending is just as disturbing as the end itself.

“We Will Take Half” is a fairy tale whose central promise–made on behalf of a child, then corrupted by ambition, politics, and a military coup–in the end cannot be broken.

“The Case of Yuri Zaystev” is a ghost story set in the old Soviet Union, where the unquiet dead are less of a threat than the living. The bleakness, the hopelessness, the dehumanization of Soviet communism is palpable.

“Cabras” is the tale of a man who has outlived two revolutions but, because of his daughter’s choices, will probably not survive the third.

“Volver Al Monte” is, in my opinion, probably the strongest story in the collection. It tells of a ruthless general who is something of a hero to his countrymen, but is forced to answer for his monstrous actions by monsters even more powerful than he is.

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Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts is an unnerving, mournful, and compelling collection by a talented author. The dozen stories featured all focus, at their heart, on family dynamics–and all the love, hurt, and dysfunction inherent in the system. I recommend it highly.

Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, edited by Justin A. Burnett, is a well-crafted anthology built on the theme of disturbing simulacra. Dolls, statues, and mechanical men have been a staple of our storytelling since the days of myth. While there are plenty of memorable creations that are generally helpful and good, Mannequin steers clear of those types. There is not a Galatea or Pinnochio in the bunch, here, but there is a surprisingly broad range of other sorts. There are dolls of all different kinds, mannequins in various stages of intactness, wooden figures and mechanical puppets, toys and constructs and scarecrows.

None of them have our best interests in mind.

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mannequinFollowing Christopher Slatsky’s thoughtful introduction are the sixteen disquieting variations on the theme:

Ramsey Campbell’s  “Cyril” is a disorienting stream-of-consciouness nightmare, with the narrative slipping between thoughts and dialogue. The doll here is an innocent compared to the greed of the main character.

Michael Wehunt’s “Balladyna” turns on a doll made to comfort a woman’s dying daughters. The descriptions of how the characters move through their house are vivid and unnerving.

Christine Morgan’s “Window Dressing” documents a woman’s loss of identity, and sanity, to a department store mannequin.

Richard Gavin’s “Crawlspace Oracle” is a gothically dark tale of possession. The doll, its keeper, and its victim inhabit a filthy space where prophecy is both power and chain.

Kristine Ong Muslim’s “The Incipient Eleanor” compactly chronicles the power struggle within an abusive and co-dependent relationship between a man and his mannequin.

Nicholas Day’s “The Part That Dies” puts a dark spin on life imitating art, with a surviving twin doing what he must to complete his brother’s final sculpture.

Austin James’ “Into the Fugue” follows a man as he reluctantly recovers the memory of his squalid upbringing, and his family’s reason for doll-making.

William Tea’s “Husks” presents a life-changing inheritance and a useful construct that would be a man. Earthy, gritty, and off-beat folk-horror that got under my skin.

Duane Pesice’s “Bobble” is short, tight, and delightfully bizarre. His choice of simulacra is sort of funny, right up until it becomes truly horrifying. One of my favorites in the collection.

S.L. Edwards’ “The Sickness of the Town” puts puppet governments and false idols into verse in a grimly political take on the anthology’s theme. The poem’s imagery made me think of Pink Floyd’s “Waiting for the Worms”, with its marching hammers and ugly facism.

Matthew M. Bartlett’s “Kuklalar” envisions a grotesque management culture with artificial supervisors, disgruntled employees, and a healthy dose of black magic. Solidly creepy.

S.E. Casey’s “The Night Shift” is another moody, evocative tale set in the workplace. Its organic corporate creations are needy, disturbing, and innocent. I can only wonder if they will stay that way.

Justin A. Burnett’s “She” unravels the connection between a detective, a serial killer, and the ghost of a doll trying to come back into existence.

Daulton Dickey’s “Allegory of Shadows and Bones” is a surreal, new-wave trek by a skeleton and his mannequin through a world that has ceased to be. 

C.P. Dunphey’s “Dance of the Marionettes” is a dreamlike tale of gigantic hybrid beings and the weakness of the human condition, with a distance and mystery reminiscent of the Strugatskys’ work

Jon Padgett’s grim and mesmerizing closing piece, “To a Puppet, From a Dummy”, walks the fine line between personal memoir and fiction. I’m not sure how much to accept as real and how much as embellishment, but its effect is powerful.

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The volume as a whole is full of unsettling creatures with wills and minds of their own. The stories, so effective individually, work together to produce a solid chill. There is a reason the uncanny valley exists. We will always be wary of things that are modeled after us or mimic us–whether we made them, or not.

weirdbook

In other news, I had two new stories published in June.

The first, after a long wait with many dramatic turns, is “The Bones”, which appeared in Weirdbook # 41. I get to share a TOC with such talented fellow authors as C.M Muller, S.L. Edwards, Darrell Schweitzer, and the poets Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman.

weirdbookThe second is the flash piece “A Winter’s Tale”, in the anthology Itty Bitty Writing Space. There I share the pages with one hundred and three other contributors of very short stories, including Gregg Chamberlain, James, Dorr, Joanna Hoyt, and Russell Smeaton.

Both Weirdbook and Itty Bitty Writing Space make fine additions to a summer reading list–and will help tide us all over until I can report on several autumn releases.

The best of the bunch

Stranger Things 3, which dropped on the 4th of July, turned out to be a letdown for me. It lacks the charming nostalgia and sure hand of the earlier seasons. While the show did pick up steam by the fourth episode, I think overall this season is the weakest of them all.

The episodes are wildly uneven in tone, and don’t seem to know who the adult characters are supposed to be. They are demoted to cartoons, mugging for the camera and overacting all over the screen, only occasionally coming into focus. Especially egregious, to me, was the waste of talent in casting Cary Elwes as the evil mayor just to have him chew up the scenery.

The younger characters are handled with much more nuance. They have matured, and for the most part behave naturally (although in one scene, Mike is so blatantly mouthy toward Hopper I’m surprised he didn’t get smacked into next week). The Steve/Dustin friendship dynamic is wonderful, and I would joyfully watch a spinoff with just those two. As new characters go, Robin* is outstanding, as is (after a prickly start) Erica. 

Unfortunately, Stranger Things 3 seems like a money-grab to me, especially after the strong and satisfying arc of Season 2. While enough loose threads are left hanging for a fourth season, I truly hope they let Stranger Things lie. 

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Los Espookys, in all their glory

On a brighter note–while Stranger Things seems to have run its course, Los Espookys is just getting started.

Los Espookys is HBO’s new mostly-Spanish-language comedy about a group of Latin American friends who create horror effects for a living. It is a sweet, silly, delightful show. The small and talented cast includes Bernardo Velasco as the group’s cheerful leader, Renaldo; Julio Torres as Andrés, the wealthy heir to a chocolate empire; Cassandra Ciangherotti as Úrsula, the brains of the group; and Ana Fabrega as Úrsula’s simpleton sister, Tati. Fred Armisen plays a small but pivotal role as Renaldo’s Uncle Tico.

While the monsters and supernatural goings-on thus far are all stagecraft, there are hints of real spooky things happening, as well. Andrés displays some magical abilities that may or may not be real. The gorgeous host of a popular television program may be under a hypnotic spell. And the blonde party girl we meet in episode one seems to work for a mysterious government agency.

Los Espookys is not technically a horror comedy, but it plays one on TV. It is a thoroughly charming bit of silliness to help pass a hot summer night. 

 

*For some reason, I decided to rename Robin as April. She looks like an “April” to me, but the correction has been made.

Dead don't die

The Dead Don’t Die is nothing but delightful. Jim Jarmusch’s star-laden zombie flick is part homage, part send-up, and entirely, absurdly, hilariously meta. I laughed. A lot.

In addition to an amazing number of Romero references, Jarmusch infuses The Dead Don’t Die with bits of Phantasm, The Walking Dead, and even a healthy dose of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I’m sure I missed others, because many of the tropes he so pointedly played on are almost standard-issue for the movies he mocks.

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The set-up is familiar: Man’s quest for cheap energy has knocked the earth off its axis. Terrible things are happening. The sun doesn’t set. Animals run away. The moon gives off strange rays. And the dead are up and walking around.

It’s a good thing that the people of Centerville know a zombie apocalypse when they see one.

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In tribute to the low-budget zombie movies of yore, The Dead Don’t Die features low-tech zombie makeup, cheap special effects, and wonderfully stilted dialogue. It would be inaccurate to call many of the small details foreshadowing, since the film’s assumption is that the audience already knows how this story goes.

The cast certainly does.

The players are a mix of Jarmusch regulars and new faces along for the ride. Bill Murray and Adam Driver as most of Centerville’s police force step in and out of character seamlessly to discuss random details and bicker about the script. Tilda Swinton gleefully chews the scenery as a katana-wielding Scottish mortician. Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, the ever-quirky Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, and Caleb Landry Jones back them up as assorted varieties of townsfolk. A slew of other famous and familiar actors round out the cast in smaller roles and in cameos–as zombies and their first victims.

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From Tom Waits’s framing moral philosophy to Tilda Swinton’s extraordinarily pointless deus ex machina, The Dead Don’t Die delivers exactly what you would expect from a cheesy zombie movie, but with a wonderful awareness of its conventions.The actors, for the most part, play it straight–which only serves to exaggerate the irony of the dialogue and the deadpan inversion of predictable situations.

Despite decidedly mixed reviews, I found The Dead Don’t Die to be quite simply brilliant. It’s an affectionate take on a nearly tapped-out genre, delivered by people who seem to revel in the silliness. And that’s my kind of summer movie.

Creep Throat

Creep Throat: Sex Fables for the Horny, Gloomy, and Unhinged, edited by Viorika La Vae, is a surprising, uneven, and entertaining little anthology. Its ten stories and single poem are a roller coaster of style and mood, with the stories ranging from simply goofy, to overwrought, to brilliant. There is a touch of cyberpunk, a hint of the gothic, and even a call-back to the slick pulp horror of the seventies and eighties. Taken together, they make for an unexpectedly engaging read.

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My favorites here are:                                                                                          

“Lust and Death in 2045” by Melanie Sage Thibodeaux is a moody and evocative piece that firmly binds together sex and death in something that feels like one of the better indie horror movies. It’s gritty and brutal, conveying desperation and decay without being over the top.                               

“Gear Head” by Duane Pesice tells a sharp, hallucinogenic tale of the cybernetic skin trade. The descriptions are tactile and disorienting, the plot a stream of garbled consciousness. It is weird and wonderful, with the extra added uncertainty of what is experiencing who. 

“Lady Luck” by Eve Kerrigan and Ben Keefe reminded me, with its fast pace, glitzy setting, and snarky characterizations, of the cheesy beach books on spinner racks at the drugstore. I mean that with great fondness. The monster is wildly bizarre, while sex is background noise here–part of the set-up but not a big part of the resulting chaos.                                      

“At Lazio’s: A Tale of the Crawling Chaos” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is a variation on a classic tale of vampirism, beautifully told. The story ended up more or less where I thought it would, but was a joy to read with its terse, perfect descriptions and the lovely line, “…for me it’s about the kill, not the chase”.   

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So, while the stories collected in Creep Throat weren’t always to my taste, overall the anthology is a solid read. The authors are a talented bunch, and there is a good balance between the ridiculous, the serious, and the sublime. I’d say it’s definitely worth a look.                                              

lurker in the lobby

Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft is an older but still handy guide to the many attempts made at filming Lovecraft’s cosmically weird tales. Authors Andrew Migliore and John Strysik bring a fan’s enthusiasm to the project, producing an often unpolished but still joyful compendium of Lovecraftian media. They approach their subject from several different angles, and end up giving quite a rich experience to their readers.

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Since Lurker in the Lobby dates from 2006, it serves primarily as an historical reference. But what a history! The authors cover all the major films to that point, from Quartermass to The Thing to Dagon, with many familiar and lesser-known movies in between.

And when seen through the right lens, Lovecraftian elements show up in many places you wouldn’t normally think to look. Unexpected additions to the movie list include The Trollenberg Terror (1958) with its giant crawling eyes, Uzumaki (2000), based on a horror manga, and The Maze (1953), about the classically subversive threat of hereditary evil.

The television show list is also surprising, with Lovecraftian themes and references showing up not just in the usual horror anthology series but in the Saturday morning cartoons, as well.

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But while the capsule reviews of the movies and TV shows are great fun, the interviews end up slowing the book down. Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Jeffrey Coombs, and Bernie Wrightson are among the luminaries the Lurker spoke with, and their interest in Lovecraft and filmmaking is inspiring. But the overall tone of the interviews is uneven. The questions are fairly formulaic and not particularly probing. They end abruptly. And while many of the interviewees have long had an active interest in the source material, others are included only by the chance of having worked on an adaptation.

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To round out their offerings, the authors include a picture gallery featuring art by Richard Corben, Mike Migliore, and Bernie Wrightson, a pretty thorough list of short Lovecraft adaptations, and an index of feature films listed by year and again by the story that provided the basis for them.

So while it is imperfect and rough around the edges, Lurker in the Lobby is still an essential read. It is an affectionate look at some of the many, many films and filmmakers inspired by Lovecraft, presented in a way that can only inspire more.

upstart crow

The last month went by fast.

I’m working on a few new stories, and waiting for the publication of several more. The near future should see my stories in Weirdbook and Vastarien, and in a couple of slightly-delayed anthologies.

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In the meantime, though, I’ve been dabbling in a number of new and returning shows.

The big one is always going to be Game of Thrones. I was looking forward to the final season with joy and trepidation, and the first episode met my expectations. It was good to see Tormund again, and Arya, and Varys. But the exposition was so blunt it felt like a summary to me rather than an unfolding story. I hope it will smooth out a little on the way to its epic ending. (As a special added bonus, you might want to check out Upstart Crow on PBS, a sitcom about Shakespeare now in its third season. I only just realized that Gemma Whelan, the actress who plays Yara Greyjoy with such grim strength, is a regular on it and very, very funny.)

What We Do in the Shadows, on the other hand, has been consistently delightful over its first four episodes. The vampires, humans, and werewolves in the series are different characters than those in the movie. That was a small disappointment. The comfortable snark and deadpan awkwardness remains, though, and there is a steady supply of guest stars to liven things up. I highly recommend this one, even though FX is stringing it out week by week.

Black Summer came with many high recommendations, yet I was left completely unimpressed by it. In fact, I found the dialogue so weak I couldn’t even finish the first episode. The actual zombies were cool in a 28 Days Later sort of way, but an age-old question popped up almost immediately: How does a zombie with severely broken bones still run around as if nothing is structurally wrong?

To recover from that unhappy experience, I finally got around to watching Umbrella Academy. It is phenomenal–it looks beautiful, it pulls you in, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s cast is terrific. Especially Aidan Gallagher, who plays Number Five. He is wonderful.

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With any luck, I’ll have more writing announcements soon. Until then, there is Netflix.